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Response to Baby Tanner's death inadequate say First Nation leaders

"We found out through the Colten Boushie tragedy, just how racist the justice system can be" - FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron
FSIN Baby Tanner
Kyla Frenchman, centre, mother of toddler Tanner Brass, is comforted during a news conference organized by the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations in Saskatoon on Wednesday, March 2.

PRINCE ALBERT — The death of a toddler in Prince Albert has Indigenous leaders accusing the police force there of doing nothing to address systemic racism.

The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations executive, Prince Albert Grand Council executive and the Thunderchild First Nation leadership said Friday in a release that the response from the Prince Albert Police Service, City of Prince Albert and government has been inadequate and will do nothing to repair the irreparable harm following the death of Baby Tanner Brass.

“This lack of response and action, including the immediate termination of these officers and cell block sergeant, is continued systemic racism,” stated the release. The mother of the toddler, Kyla Frenchman, has called for the firing of the chief of police and two members of the force.

“If these officers showed up to a domestic dispute call involving a young white family, knowing that an infant was inside and possibly in danger, do you think they would have arrested the mother and left without completing a welfare check on the child? They must be terminated immediately,” says FSIN Vice Chief Heather Bear. “This is a clear example of discrimination against a young First Nations mother. She was judged based on the colour of her skin, locked up and her baby was left to fend for himself. Where is the justice for Baby Tanner? Why are these officers still officers? Minister Christine Tell, we’re calling on you to protect our people from the PAPS.”

The Prince Albert Police Service responded to Frenchman's home on the morning of Feb. 10. Speaking for Frenchman at a press conference March 2, FSIN alleged officers racially profiled her and accused her of being drunk, saying they detained her and left the toddler with his father. Kaij Brass was charged with second-degree murder in the death of Tanner Brass. He was arrested after police received a phone call and returned to the home about five hours after their first visit.

“Systemic racism is allowing the police to investigate the police. Without First Nations inclusion on these investigations regarding the murder and deaths of our own First Nations people, there is no transparency, accountability, or justice,” says Thunderchild First Nation Chief James Snakeskin. “We need trust, and we don’t have that with the PAPS. We don’t have the confidence that they’re doing everything they can to serve and protect, not only Thunderchild band members, but all First Nations men, women, and children. Our community is devastated and these officers are still working.”

The Saskatchewan Public Complaints Commission is investigating how police responded to the call. “Policies and procedures have been developed and enforced within policing to save lives. Those important steps must be taken to prevent deaths and to protect the community. We have serious concerns for the safety of our people, when it has become clear and apparent that these steps are being ignored and the lives of our innocent children are being lost because of it,” says PAGC Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte. “One simple phone call by any of these police officers to Mobile Crisis could have saved the life of this innocent baby boy. We demand answers. We demand justice for Baby Tanner.”

FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron says, “There is no trust within this broken system. We have been advocating for change and we found out through the Colten Boushie tragedy, just how racist the justice system can be and what happens when police investigate themselves. It’s going to fail again.

He say, “The PAPS, City of PA and Ministry of Public Safety have had nearly three weeks to investigate this tragedy. We know systemic racism exists within PAPS and we demand immediate intervention and terminations. Lives are depending on it. These officers are dealing with domestic disputes involving infants and children daily and we have zero confidence that these women and children will be protected. In a time of MMIW and #MeToo, how is Mayor Greg Dionne allowing PAPS Chief Jonathon Bergen to operate his force in his community this way? We are calling for the immediate termination of these officers, sergeant and Chief of Police for non-confidence and criminal negligence, which contributed to the death of Tanner Brass.”

Following the incident, Police Chief Jonathan Bergen said the service needs to review how it handles inter-partner violence. He also said the two officers who responded to the call are junior members of the force. As of March 2, they both remained on duty.

“It is apparent from Chief Bergen’s initial media and follow up response, that he has directed responsibility of this tragedy towards others, in and outside of his force, and has not accepted any responsibility as the Chief of Police. It angers our leadership to see such actions and inaction by this Chief of Police and reinforces our belief that uncompassionate systemic discrimination exists at all levels of the service,” says FSIN Vice Chief Dutch Lerat. “To suggest that a members years of experience reasonably dismisses the service from responsibility is incompetence and shatters public faith. Additionally, to continue to put vulnerable people at continued risk by allowing three criminally responsible officers in the front lines creates grave concerns for the safety and wellness of our people in Prince Albert. In Edmonton, Alberta, Police Chief Dale McFee, the former Chief of Police in Prince Albert, suspended two offices without pay for their involvement with the trucker’s freedom convoy. Apparently, the criminal negligence of three of his officers that led to the tragic death of a First Nations baby is not of parallel importance to Chief Bergen, who has several options as chief of police to address the severity of this national tragedy”.